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Five Maroons’ make or break year

It wasn't quite Queensland's year last year - in both the NRL and Origin arenas.

With a number of moves during the off-season for our Maroon-blooded players, The Sunday Mail has taken a look at five key players and how they will fare in 2020.

BRODIE CROFT, BRISBANE BRONCOS

NRL experts believe no one is under more pressure than Brodie Croft in 2020 as he looks to take the reins at the Brisbane Broncos and deliver them their first premiership in over a decade.

The 22-year-old Cooper Cronk clone is set to be the club's first-choice halfback this year as they desperately try to fill the famous No.7 jersey with a game-winning star.

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Brodie Croft must forge his own path. Photo: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt
Brodie Croft must forge his own path. Photo: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt

 

Rugby league's most respected analytical mind and former Origin player Ben Ikin believes Croft possesses the talent to be a matchwinner but must further his skills to become the Broncos little general for 2020.

"He's clearly got all the tools," Ikin said. "He can kick, he can pass, he can run, he can tackle. But as is the case with all great playmakers, he has to be more than the individual sum of his parts.

"He needs to be able to take all of those tools and think beyond him and his own role and learn how to manage a game and influence the result of most weeks.

"That's what the Broncos bought him to do. Not to be brilliant but to own that team and be its general."

Queensland legend Billy Moore believes the change of scenery will be perfect for both Croft and the Broncos, as long as he can handle the pressure of one of the most famous positions in the NRL.

"Everyone is talking about the major signings of the season and the pressure that will befall those signings, and Brodie Croft is number one," Queensland legend Billy Moore said.

"If not on the podium because he's going to the most high profile club in the competition.

"He's wearing a very famous jersey and he needs to deliver an outcome that the Broncos have been desperately trying to search for a couple of years."

 

Can Holmes rediscover his touch as quickly as the Cowboys need it? Photo: Evan Morgan
Can Holmes rediscover his touch as quickly as the Cowboys need it? Photo: Evan Morgan

 

VALENTINE HOLMES, NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

THE Cowboys' marquee signing for 2020 is set to ignite the NRL once again following his stint in the NFL last year.

Holmes is likely to slot straight into the Cowboys No.1 jersey as they look to turn things around from two consecutively poor seasons in the NRL.

And Billy Moore cannot be more excited to see the Townsville junior light it up for his hometown club.

"Physically, you've got a guy coming out of a sports science system (the NFL) which leaves the NRL in the dark ages," Moore said.

"I'm interested to see what one or two percenters will be added to his game. For someone like Val, one or two per cent of anything will be brilliant to watch."

"With someone like Val there at the Cowboys, that could be the panacea, just what the Cowboys need."

Ikin believes the 24-year-old is still learning the game and could become an even bigger threat if the Cowboys allow him to develop a passing game.

"He was still doing his apprenticeship at fullback (at Cronulla) before he left," Ikin said.

"There's no doubt he's hugely talented and will continue to improve. Will it be in 2020? That remains to be seen. I think the Cowboys are going to have to be patient with him as he finds his feet again in the NRL.

"The next phase for Holmes is developing his ability to be a playmaker. Put a pass in his game because at the moment he's predominantly running."

 

 

Kurt Capewell can be of huge value to Queensland. Photo: AAP Image/Darren England
Kurt Capewell can be of huge value to Queensland. Photo: AAP Image/Darren England

 

KURT CAPEWELL, PENRITH PANTHERS

THE Charleville product will head to his second NRL club after signing with the Penrith Panthers for 2020.

The 26-year-old is yet to have a standout season in the NRL as he battled for spots in the Cronulla line-up over the past four seasons.

His utility ability proved an asset last year when Maroons coach Kevin Walters called him into Origin camp as 18th man and has since been talked about as a possible starter for this year's series.

Ikin said he is a valuable player in that he can play both centre and backrow, but questioned where he would play in the Panthers team this season.

"He can play both positions equally as well," Ikin said.

"He's in that rarefied air where the difference between his best and his worst on any given week is very small.

"He looks to me to be the player that you give a couple of jobs to and he's not going to disappoint. What you get from him is certainty."

Moore has backed Capewell to impress in the NRL this season as being the go-to utility player.

"Kurt Capewell is top five utility players in the game. I love him," he said.

"He can play in the back row or play in the centres. Not just play there, he can be in the top three players on the field.

"It's a big thing in the NRL. He plays with passion. He's like a Mitch Aubusson."

 

 

Will leaving Brisbane bring out the best in Shibasaki? Photo: Adam Head
Will leaving Brisbane bring out the best in Shibasaki? Photo: Adam Head

 

GEHAMA SHIBASAKI, NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

THE former Broncos centre is looking to develop his NRL career with a fresh start at the Knights in 2020.

Newcastle's new coach Adam O'Brien earlier this month admitted he identified Shibasaki as the perfect replacement for outgoing Newcastle backs Jesse Ramien and Shaun Kenny-Dowall because of his defensive record against former Roosters star Latrell Mitchell.

Shibasaki last year defended against Mitchell in the Broncos 15-10 upset win over the eventual premiers at Suncorp Stadium.

Moore believes Shibasaki will become a better player in the Newcastle system, learning from players such as (NSW and Australian representatives) Mitchell Pearce and David Klemmer.

"I like him. I liked him at the Broncs and I was disappointed when they moved him on," he said.

"Obviously you saw fleeting glimpses of his potential.

"I believe there's a diamond in the rough with Shibasaki. Look at who will be around him at the Knights.

"He's got a lot of rugby league IQ. (Mitchell) Pearce, (David) Klemmer and co. You've also got a young coach. He's in an exciting team, with the likes of Kalyn Ponga.

"Moving to the Knights, is not a bad place to go in the sense that it's a one team town."

 

 

This is Jonus Pearson time to deliver. Photo: AAP/David Clark
This is Jonus Pearson time to deliver. Photo: AAP/David Clark

 

JONUS PEARSON, GOLD COAST TITANS

QUEENSLAND great Billy Moore believes Jonus Pearson can become a household name this season if he makes the most of his move to the Gold Coast Titans.

The Yeppoon product signed with the Titans on a two-year deal following stints at St George and the Broncos.

He admitted it was a "fresh start" having moved back home to Queensland to be closer to his family and is aiming to be in the starting 13.

Moore said it was a smart move on his behalf as he would get more opportunity with the Titans to become a standout NRL star.

"Going to the Titans will be a good move for him," Moore said.

"Can he add something to the Titans, I think he can. He adds depth to their outside backs.

"The real key question for Jonus, is that he's at this point of his career, at a crossroads, where he has to ask do I just want to be an average, run-of-the-mill who had a crack at first grade? Or become more of a household name.

"This is the crossroads year for him."

NRL analyst Ben Ikin agreed that for Pearson, and the other Queensland players who have had a change of scenery in 2020, this would be a make-or-break year.

"The ball is well and truly in their court for this opportunity," Ikin said.

"If they get through this phase and don't fully arrive, they might struggle to get their next contract in the NRL."


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